Sunday, June 11, 2006

Cliches: We take them very seriously

Most people who teach writing caution their students against using clichés, and some clichés are more grating than others. I’m not talking about the ones that lend themselves to comic misspellings (the classic “it’s a doggie dog world” comes to mind), but the ones that get thrown around like so much confetti, like “achieving excellence.”

The one that really drives me crazy is “we/I take ___ very seriously.” Students are fond of writing this in their job application letters (“I will take this job very seriously”), which leads me to write, what, no clown nose and Bozo horn this time? All right, I don’t write that, but I do ask them this: when’s the last time they heard an applicant claim to take a job lightly and pay little attention to it? It’s a meaningless phrase.

The phrase gets overused in the popular press, which is where they probably see it. When I hear this phrase, I now understand that it means this:

1. We don’t care.
2. We don’t have to.
Actually, it's more like this: 1. We've noticed that you're upset.
2. We want you to stop being upset, but we don't plan to change anything.
3. Go away and stop asking questions.

It’s gotten quite a workout lately with all the data thefts (VA data on stolen laptop, etc.), when the PR department scrambles to the microphone to tell the press that “We take data security very seriously.”

Got any examples? Why, sure.

The British understatement version:

1. Spokesman Peter Gerrard explained: "We have five or six main providers and they are all UK-based. We take any feedback or complaints seriously and are determined to only work with reputable companies."

The "trust us" version:

2. "We take the role of central bank very seriously," she said. "Select employees can take laptops home."

What's on them? How are they protected?

"We can just say they are highly secured laptops," Kosydor said before cutting off the questions.

And, because you can never use too many intensifiers in a sentence:

3. At the same time, the decades of tradition that have made the Triple Crown probably the most challenging and elusive prize in all of sports is something that we take very, very, very seriously."

Updated to add this one from FEMA. from an AP article called "FEMA funds spent on divorce, sex change":

"Even as we put victims first, we take very seriously our responsibility to be outstanding stewards of taxpayer dollars, and we are careful to make sure that funds are distributed appropriately," Walker said.

[Unpleasant subject matter alert: if you’re unusually squeamish, skip this paragraph.]


The latest incarnation is about the essentially unregulated use of cadaver tissue in operations, which has caused several deaths:

An FDA quality and compliance official, Mary Malarkey, said she believes tissue is safe and that she would have no qualms about receiving it.

"I do actually have family members and friends who have,'' Malarkey said. "I take that very seriously.''


You see, I have a responsibility to warn readers about what’s in this space. I take that very seriously.

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